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It was on a long flight back from Capgemini’s headquarters in France, earlier this week, that I finally got to read the September 22, 2008, issue of Business Week. I had been saving it in order to get to the cover story, “Keeping America Competitive”. In this intense political season the issue would have been seriously wanting if it did not focus on what our two main presidential candidates have to say on the subject. As reported in this magazine, it is clear that the next President, irrespective of which candidate wins, is going to place a heavy emphasis on spurring the creativity of Americans to find newer products and services to re-establish our pre-eminence in the world. Both of them have a definite position on innovation and what they would do if elected. Why are they promising targeted investment to encourage entrepreneurs and potential innovators? What is the underlying message here? These are important questions, and especially at a time when we seem to have a pall of financial gloom over us.

In periods of economic distress, conventional logic would often point organizations to cut back on any cash outflow that did not promise an immediate ROI. However, if the intent is to gain competitive advantage and to emerge from tough economic times with a clear advantage, then there is perhaps a need to look at select ways in which to invest effort and resources. This is what, I hope, our political leaders are after when they promise investment in innovation. This is what, I would ask, corporate leaders to focus on instead of knee-jerk reactions to blanket spending cuts and freezes. So, if corporate leaders are to look at investing in innovation, where should they focus?

Another thing that was evident in reading this issue was that creating “hip devices like the iPhone may not be the most profitable form of innovation” (pp 48, indata, by Reena Jana, Business Week, September 22, 2008). The companies that outshone their competitors in both increasing average stock returns and revenue growth in the period from 2004 to 2007, were those known for their “innovative business models.” One then wonders why would others not emulate this model? It is significant that the companies studied for this analysis fell in three major categories besides the category for “innovative products.”  These other three categories were those that were known for “innovative business models”, “innovative processes”, and “innovative customer experience.” It may be argued that all three of these have to do with refining business processes and personalization of the experience(s) with these business processes.

In my opinion this is validation of the notion that successful innovation in these companies is tied to their business processes and the significance they place on the business process perspective. In other words, the Business Process Enterprise or BPEn (see blog post of June 17, 2008, titled: Café Innovation –  The Business Process Enterprise) is the one that is likely to be best positioned for success in delivering on innovation that does not necessarily have to do with a cool gadget! Let us not forget that innovation happens for most organizations in increments and not necessarily in a big bang realization of something cool.

It is important for organizations to now focus on making targeted investments that will further the cause of realizing the BPEn state such that they emerge from these times with the ability to successfully innovate, and attain or lock in competitive advantage.

Does your organization have a point of view on innovation and where they should focus their energies?

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